Drug shortages are affecting hospitals and pharmacies around the country. The reasons range from supply problems preventing the production of drugs, to business decisions made by pharmaceutical companies that reduce or discontinue production of certain drugs. Some critically important medications, like drugs used to treat cancer, are often in short supply.
On top of this situation, efforts by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to crack down on prescription drug abuse may also be contributing to drug shortages. In addition to basic problems of availability of needed medications, research suggests that drug shortages may increase the likelihood of medication errors.
Pharmacists report that they often first learn about a drug shortage when they try to order a drug from a distributor, only to learn it is backordered. This can put patients in a dangerous position, depending on the urgency of their need for the medication. In addition to cancer drugs, shortages are reportedly affecting painkillers and medications needed for emergencies, like epinephrine. These are drugs that patients need in ready supply. In the absence of a commonly-used medication, doctors may resort to a substitute medication that is less effective, or perhaps less familiar to a pharmacist.
A report by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) lists numerous incidents where efforts to substitute a medication resulted in a harmful pharmacy error. In one case, a hospital patient receiving intravenous nutrition had to receive a substitute solution because of a multivitamin shortage. The solution that the patient received lacked an essential nutrient specific to the patient’s diagnosis. The patient developed severe complications before hospital staff identified the problem. In another case, a hospital used an alternative solution to treat an electrolyte imbalance that caused vascular damage to the patient.
Many of the cases described by ISMP involve substitution of a painkiller for the doctor’s preferred prescription. Morphine is particularly subject to shortages. One patient received hydromorphone instead of morphine. The same physical quantity of the substituted drug had seven times the potency of the prescribed drug, putting the patient into intensive care.
At least part of the painkiller shortage is reportedly due to a heightened effort by the DEA to stop the flow of illicit opioid painkillers. DEA agents have raided pharmaceutical distributors, pharmacies, and doctors’ offices, suspending the licenses of many businesses and medical professionals to prescribe or dispense certain medications. The DEA’s tactics are reportedly similar to tactics used in taking on illegal drug cartels in Mexico and elsewhere.
Many doctors and pharmacies now express reluctance to take on new pain management patients, whether or not the patients have legitimate need for painkillers. Pharmaceutical companies have reportedly cut their shipments to pharmacies and hospitals. Large shipments of painkillers have drawn the DEA’s attention in the past. Patients in desperate need of painkillers or related medications may find themselves with few options. Attempts to substitute other drugs for known and proven painkillers can put patients at risk of error and injury.
The Maryland pharmacy error attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen can assist you if you have been injured by drugs prescribed or administered incorrectly. Contact us today online, or call toll-free at (800) 654-1949 to see if you may recover damages.
More Blog Posts:
DEA Suspends Licenses of Drug Distributor and Two Pharmacies for Selling Excessive Amounts of Painkillers, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, May 22, 2012
Shortages of Important Drugs Give Rise to Concerns Over Safety of “Grey Market” Replacements, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, February 29, 2012
State Revokes Three Professionals’ Licenses to Prescribe Medication, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, December 20, 2011